28 Jan

Huffington Post Cat Tales: Brush with a Tigress

Andrea Heydlauff
Tiger cubs sitting on road

Panthera gathered stories from our scientists, researchers and partners about their favorite encounters with big cats in the wild. Below is a story from Andrea Heydlauff, Managing Director of Panthera. This "Cat Tale" is the third in our series of seven.

While 2010 is the Chinese Year of the Tiger, sadly, tigers in the wild are teetering on the brink of extinction mainly due to poaching for the illegal wildlife trade market, loss of habitat, and loss of prey. Panthera is working tirelessly to ensure a future for these incredible and iconic animals and is even achieving success in certain areas. To learn more about what Panthera is doing, and how you can help, please visit: www.panthera.org

The sun was still rising, and mist was moving through and up out of the thick underbrush. I remember the glistening dew, light dancing through a golden meadow, and the quiet sounds of the awakening birds, warming themselves under first light.

But suddenly, like an electric whip, this sleepy forest was sparked to life. The hooting alarm calls from the spotted chital; the howling screams of the black-faced monkeys; the screeches from the jungle fowl. It was deafening. Like dominoes collapsing, the sounds were coming faster and louder with every second, each one being energized by the next. And when it felt like the forest was just about to explode, "ROAR" - a guttural, ground-shaking, thunderous roar. A roar that catapulted a sambar deer from the bush, followed by, miraculously: silence.

And then, there she was, at the edge of the clearing. She barely glanced in my direction, but she knew I was there. And as her heavy paws stealthily moved her sleek body away from me, they picked up and carried the dry earth, which blew gently in the early morning breeze.

She turned, and stopped, looking right at me. She appeared painted, an ethereal, silver-lined silhouette. She was more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. With her head raised up, nose twitching, whiskers bristling, she began to "chuff" - sounding like a peacock shaking its feathers - she was calling to her cubs. And in hearing, smelling, and sensing what only tigers can, she moved elegantly and majestically across the clearing to be reunited with her young.

And then she was gone, before the dust even had a chance to settle.

Slowly, tentatively, the chital began to graze, the black-faced monkeys started to groom one another, and the jungle fowl scratched again in the dry earth.

And I knew then that I would be forever changed, that I would always remember that moment, that she would serve as a constant reminder of what is at stake, and what it is that we are all fighting for.

Andrea Heydlauff is the Managing Director at Panthera, the leading global nonprofit organization devoted to saving the world's wild cat species from the diminutive black-footed cat of southern Africa to the massive tiger of Asia. Andrea has been working to conserve wildlife for almost a decade, involving local communities from the American Southwest to Asia.

Read more of Panthera's Huffington Post Cat Tales